I just got home from the hospital and I’m quite sad. One of the bedrock families in our congregation just lost their matriarch. A dear woman who always pointed her family to Jesus. A wonderful sister in Christ who saw Jesus work in her family across multiple generations. A faithful saint who, in the words of her grieving son, “kept her life simple so that she could focus on the Lord, her family, her friends, and her church”.
I’m in my living room thinking about ways that I could have been, and hope to be, more helpful to this family. So with minimal personal editing and the vulnerability of the moment, here are some things for us to remember as we walk with families that break.
1. Be present. This point cannot be overstated. We must bear one another’s burdens. We must encourage one another daily. This requires a sacrificial, vulnerable, relational presence with people. So go, be there. Don’t worry about what to say or how to say it at this point. Just show up, sit respectfully and thoughtfully, and be present.
2. Serve eagerly. I’m no expert on the psychology of human tragedy and death. But I can tell you from personal experience, many of us go into ‘survival mode’ when we’re faced with the death of a loved one. The responsibilities of life don’t slow down, and we need people to help us with some of the simplest and most essential things on our plates. Sometimes all a grieving family member needs is a cup of coffee or a glass of water because they haven’t drunk anything for hours. Sometimes the anxious grandchild needs to go for a walk to clear their head. And sometimes the distracted and concerned young mother needs someone to pick up her kids from school. Step in and serve eagerly.
3. Get out of the way. This is where wisdom is critical in relationship to the previous point. We need to prayerfully, carefully, and considerately recognize when it’s time to back off. There are times when I’ve seen well-meaning Christians and pastors overstay the purpose of a hospital visit. We are not punching a time card of Christian service. And we are not present for personal fulfilment or self-actualization.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4)
4. Cry. I hesitate to write this exhortation, so let me clarify. I’m not talking about contrived tears. I’m not talking about disingenuous emotion. I’m talking about joining our hearts with people in such a way that we actually "weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). I don’t think this is a hypothetical exhortation from the apostle Paul. Don’t settle into some perceived strength of self. When it’s time to embrace the broken, when it’s time to look deeply into the eyes of those who mourn, go ahead and cry with them.
5. Run to Jesus. God speaks in Psalm 91, saying:
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honour him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation. (Psalm 91:15-16)
I recently had the privilege of hearing pastor and author Tim Keller teach this rich passage of Scripture. He spoke of the length to which God went in order to be with us in troubles, the length to which God went to show us his salvation. Jesus Christ became a man, and as such he identifies with us in our trouble in the most intimate and significant way. And he went a step further by going to the cross on our behalf, dying for our sins, and making a way for us to live in a proper relationship with God. Jesus is our hope in the face of death. He is our song in the midst of sorrow. So when you’re in the midst of a family that’s breaking, run to Jesus for the healing and wholeness that only he can bring.
Photo credit: Harry (Howard) Potts